University Twitter

Liz Azyan is well known for her excellent lists of local government and councils using social media but now she has turned her attention to the UK Universities. The List of UK University Twitter Accounts as of 28th July 2009 has  56 accounts so far and as well as the name of the university it includes the ‘bios’. A surprising number don’t have one! In addition there is a University Twitterleague according to number of followers as of 28th July 2009. If your institution is missing from the list either email Liz at or leave your details in the comment box to the posting.


You might also want to check out the  List of UK Universities Fan Pages on Facebook as of 28th July 2009 sorted by number of fans. The top two, and way above the rest, are The Open University (16,913) and Oxford University (14,867). Again email Liz or leave a comment if your university is missing from the list.

Free-to-use images might not be

You may have already read that Google now includes a creative commons license filter option in its Advanced Image search screen. Creative Commons is a series of licenses that can be applied to a variety of works such as images, video and PowerPoint presentations and they specify what you can and cannot do with those works. Information on the licenses can be found on the Creative Commons web site at

Google does not use the CC terminology but has instead generated a pull down menu with the options: labelled for reuse, labelled for commercial reuse, labelled for reuse for modification,  and labelled for commercial reuse for modification.


There is another option at the top of the list that is the default: not filtered by license. I had to think twice about this one because my first thoughts were that this was for public domain images. It is not. The “not filtered” option is all images. I ran the license options past a few people over the past week and they all immediately assumed that the default option is for images that you can use as you want.  A couple, though, then asked how “labelled for reuse” differed from this and then they became totally confused by the whole thing. To make it worse,  the licenses as listed by Google do not cover all the possible CC license conditions, for example attribution and share alike. So once you have done your search you still have to check the full license for the image that you wish to use. Furthermore, very few people are aware that you have to cite the license and any attribution as requested by the author.

Google says in its help files:

“By returning these search results, Google isn’t making any representation that the linked content is actually or lawfully offered under a Creative Commons license. It’s up to you to verify the terms under which the content is made available and to make your own assessment as to whether these terms are lawfully applied to the content.”

The accuracy and validity of the Google implied license was raised recently in The Register: The tragedy of the Creative Commons . It comments:

“Since there’s no guarantee that the licence really allows you to use the photo as claimed, then the publisher (amateur or professional) must still perform the due diligence they had to anyway. So it’s safer (and quicker) not to use it at all.”

I disagree with that: I recommend using it as a first level filter but then check with the original web site regarding the details of the license. At least you won’t be spending hours wading through “all rights reserved” images.

If you do use the license filter you will notice that many of the photos come from Flickr, which is owned by Yahoo!. Yahoo! has had a Creative Commons filter on its Image Advanced Search screen for a long time but only on the US site, not the UK. A far better way of searching CC Yahoo images is to go straight into Flickr at  This gives you a description of the different licenses and you can search images assigned that license. This assumes, of course, that the person who has uploaded the image is the owner of that image and there are stories that this is not always so. But how paranoid do you have to be? With respect to Flickr my approach is to take the photographer’s word for it unless there are serious inconsistencies in their photostream, for example the  meta data associated with the photos suggests that they were in Armenia, New Zealand and Peru on the same day!

So where do you go for images that really are free to use.  There is a trick you can use in Google  to pull up just public domain images. Carry out your search on the standard Image search screen and when the results come up add


to the end of the string in your br0wser address bar, and press enter. (Thanks to Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Land for this tip) . The test searches I have tried so far come up with photos from NASA, US government sites and Wikimedia Commons.  NASA is a safe bet for public domain images as are US government web pages, although there are a few exceptions but these are clearly labelled with any copyright restrictions.. A recent spat between Wikimedia Commons and the UK’s National Portrait Gallery  – National Portrait Gallery bitchslaps Wikipedia: Hands off our photos! – has thrown suspicion on the validity of CC and public domain licenses attached to its photos. This appears to have been an isolated incident, though, and the high resolution images have now been removed if you are accessing the site from the UK.

Another source of public domain images is MorgueFile, which is a small database of high resolution photos but you may have to play around with your search terms before you find exactly what you want.

If you are looking for photos of buildings or locations in the UK then head straight for Geograph.  This aims to collect geographically representative photographs and information for every square kilometre of Great Britain and Ireland. Anyone can upload photos provided that they adhere to the guidelines and attach a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Geograph has saved me so much time. A few months ago I was trying to find a photo of the Great Expectations pub in Reading, Berkshire. Google, Yahoo and Live (now Bing) insisted on giving me photos of people reading a copy of  Charles Dickins’s Great Expectations  while sitting in a pub in Berkshire. The image I wanted was probably somewhere in the list but I was not prepared to trawl through hundreds of results to find it. I typed in Great Expectations Reading into Geograph and I was there in a couple of seconds. Brilliant!


If you are interested in finding out more about finding and using images head for JISC Digital Media – Still Images.

Ixquick becomes Startpage

Ixquick has changed its name to Startpage. The name and URL may have changed but the technology and way you use it is the same. Ixquick/Startpage is what is sometimes called a meta search engine, which I find misleading. It doesn’t search web page or document meta-data but takes your search and runs it across several tools at once and generates a single list of results. For the Web option it covers All the Web, Ask, Bing, Cuil, EntireWeb, Exalead, Gigablast, Lycos, Open Directory, Qkport, Wikipedia and Yahoo. All are automatically searched by Startpage but you can de-select individual services if you wish. Google is conspicuous by its absence.

The great thing about tools of this kind is that it presents you with a single list gleaned from all of the search tools in the list. The disadvantage is that you cannot always use the advanced features of the individual services, although Startpage does have a go at addressing this. On the home page the Power Search option takes you to a page where there are boxes for “at least one of the words” (OR), “all the words”, “exact phrase” and “without the words”. There is also an expert search link that adds options for text in the title or URL, “at this domain name” (site search), pages “with links to this domain name”, and type of domain name (but only .com, .edu, .gov, .net, .org). Note that there is no filetype search. You can bring this screen up by default when you connect to Startpage by going to My Settings and selecting Expert Search as Homepage search mode.

The site search seems to work well but the link option returns just a fraction of the true results and only displays the top 10. To find pages that link to a domain or specific page, searching direct on Yahoo or Exalead gives far better results.

As well as Web Startpage does video search, which is powered by, and allows you to restrict your search to categories such as business, news, sport and entertainment. The Pictures (image) option is disappointing and there is no information on which search engines are used to compile the results. The phone number option varies depending on the country you select but again there does not appear to any information on which telephone directories are used. Oddly, there is a “reverse” option to find a name from a telephone number even if you select the UK as a country. When you click on search, though, Startpage says the combination is not valid. Hardly surprising since reverse lookup is not available for public use in the UK.

I don’t generally use tools such as Ixquick/Startpage or Dogpile. If I want to search quickly across multiple search engines I prefer to use something like Zuula or Browsys Advanced Finder and click through the tabs for each tool one by one. There are many people who do use them, though, and Ixquick has often been named as a favourite by people on my Advanced Search workshops. It is all down to what suits you and what works for your type of searches.  From the feedback that I have had over the years Startpage is definitely worth trying.

Google lets you turn off SearchWiki.

At long last Google now lets you turn off SearchWiki. If you don’t know what that is see my posting Begone Searchwiki. You first of all need to be logged into the Google account on which you enabled SearchWiki. Then go to Preferences and tick the SearchWiki box that says “Hide the ability to share, promote, remove, comment, or add your own results.” That’s the good news.

The bad news is that if you have promoted, demoted or deleted results from a search your changes will remain in place every time you log in to your Google account and run a search. You will have to re-enable SearchWiki, run a search and at the bottom of the results page click on “See all my SearchWiki notes”. From there you can undo all of your changes. Then go back into Preferences and disable SearchWiki.

For more details see Search engine land’s Google SearchWiki: You Can ‘Check Out,’ But Your Results Don’t Leave

Bing UK Round Table Meeting

Hashtag: #meetbing

Twelve bloggers, including myself and Phil Bradley, were invited to the round table meeting with Microsoft Bing in London on the evening of June 29th. The aim of the event, according to the email correspondence that preceded it, was to outline Microsoft’s plans for Bing in the UK and to obtain feedback and opinions from us. It wasn’t so much ’round table’ as around several tables. Laptops, netbooks and iphones came out at the start of the meeting and we all jostled for positions near power sockets. We were actively encouraged to tweet and blog before, during and after the event to our respective communities in order to spread the word and to elicit feedback from colleagues and friends. And we were provided with free wi-fi. This was definitely a step in the right direction and very different from similar search engine events that I have attended where you do not get through the door unless you have signed a non-disclosure agreement in blood, and you end up in a room that turns out to be a Faraday cage. So full marks to Microsoft on this aspect of the meeting.

The plan was to have a presentation followed by a break, then another session with, I think, questions and feedback throughout. It started off according to timetable with an outline of what Microsoft is doing with Bing. As many UK searchers had already noticed the US version of Bing is very different from the one we have in the UK, which is still in beta. Microsoft wanted to “get traction” in the US first before developing the other country versions further. For example, they hope to be rolling out spell checking of queries in a few weeks.

They then produced some statistics, one of which stated that only 1 in 4 searches delivers a successful result. I questioned where this data had come from and was told it had been collected from MSN search and the toolbar in IE. This then raised the question of how valid their data really is. It was soon after this that the programme fell apart as the questions started to flow fast and furious.

One question was about the size of the Bing index. The Microsoft people dod not seem too sure about this but came up with a figure of approximately 10 billion pages. This surprised me as there have been several occasions when Live, Bing’s predecessor, has come up with unique pages that were not in either Google’s or Yahoo’s index. The index may be smaller, they said, but they are concentrating on quality – although no clues as to how they are doing that – and using humans and neural networks for “training” the ranking algorithms. They believe they will provide search results as relevant to Google in the UK in a few months. One piece of jargon that went completely over my head was tweeted by @leggetter: Microsoft are using NDCG to determine their search result relevance. If like me you haven’t a clue what that is, take a look at In practice, people don’t care about the technology behind the results they just want relevant stuff on that first page and that is what is going to convince people that Bing is worth using.

Microsoft confirmed that they are concentrating on the consumer market, which is obvious from the “verticals” that they are promoting in the US, for example suggesting hotels, comparing airline flight prices, comparing prices for various products. When I asked if they were going to provide a proper advanced search screen, they repeated their mantra of “concentrating on the consumer market” the implication being that “consumers” don’t need advanced search. I beg to differ. Google and Yahoo’s main audience is the consumer market. That is where they make  their money, but they still have a decent advanced search screen. Yes, you can do advanced search on Bing such as restricting to filetype but you have to know the commands. Most people acquire their searching preferences and skills at school, university, work or in the public library. If you get stuck you ask a colleague, the librarian or someone in the information centre what to do next. They may suggest a different search tool or show you how to use the advanced search screen boxes on Google or Yahoo. Filling in boxes is far easier for many people than having to remember and type in command line prefixes. And what people learn and find useful at school or in the workplace they continue to use when they search at home.

It was around this point in the discussion that Phil Bradley said  “Nothing new here, nothing that excites me, nothing that is innovative”. And I have to agree with him. UK Bing at present is simply a rebadged version of The Microsoft people admitted that it is not as good as it  should be but affirmed their commitment to its development long term. We shall have to wait and see. The UK team obviously passionately believes in the product but Microsoft does not have a good track record when it comes to following through on new initiatives. Academic Live was far superior to Google Scholar and its Live Books had content and advanced search features that Google Books did not. Both services were axed in May 2008.

And finally there is the issue of censorship. Phil Bradley has repeatedly raised this with Bing directly, via his blog and on Twitter but so far has had no satisfactory response, and the Bing people at the meeting did not seem to know what is going on. For background on this see Phil’s blog postings The Microsoft Bing MeetingBing: excluding results from UK version? and More on Bing removing UK content.

Overall, I am not sure what to make of the meeting. I suspect that Bing were expecting to be able do a straightforward sales pitch with a few easy questions from a tame audience, which we most definitely were not! I must congratulate the Bing people, though, for the cool way in which they handled the meeting. There was a lot of scribbling of notes on their side and promises to look into our concerns and questions. I had received several questions and comments from friends and colleagues but there was not enough time to raise them at the meeting itself.  Apart from the ridiculously short amount of time available to us  – we had two and a half hours  – there was a mixture of web developers, web 2.0 gurus and serious web searchers (Phil Bradley and myself) at the event and most of us had long lists of questions. I would definitely attend a second meeting but it would be more productive if they had separate events for developers and searchers.

So would I recommend Bing as a search tool? Yes, but purely because I have always included in my list of essential search engines and Live now redirects to Bing. Bing is different from Live in the way it handles results but for some of my business searches it still sometimes pulls up unique results. (I will look at Bing search results in more detail in a separate posting). Is it a Google beater? I would love to see Bing give Google a run for its money but I can’t see it happening at present.

Other blog postings on the meeting include The Microsoft Bing Meeting, Phil Leggetter – Microsoft round table thoughts, Bing Roundtable: Where was the innovation? : David Stuart, Web Reflection: UK Bing Roundtable – Just My Opinion. Apologies if I have missed anyone.

UK Mobile Phone Directory

Update: February 4th, 2010. This directory is no longer available

UK mobile phone numbers are now available in an online directory at, which claims to have 15m numbers in its database. 118 800 obtains the numbers from market research companies who contact individuals and ask if they would be prepared to allow their numbers to be used for commercial purposes, from online businesses who ask customers to opt in their numbers during the course of online transactions, and from brokers who buy and sell lists of phone numbers. To search for a number you just type the name and location of the person into the 118800 website. You may be asked to supply further address details to confirm the identity of the person you wish to contact. 118800 then texts the person you wish to contact asking them if they are prepared to accept the call. The service costs £1.

There have been serious concerns raised about this service and its potential use by spammers, and also about the accuracy of the data. See the BBC web site at and also 118 800: First UK mobile phone directory doesn’t connect with us – Crave at CNET UK

If you wish to be ex-directory, go to then click on ‘Ex Directory’ at top right hand side of the page. You will be asked for your mobile number and to type in letters from a CAPTCHA (those horrible distorted letters and numbers that take at least three attempts before you get it right). You should then receive a text message from 118 800 with a number that you have to type into the 118 800 web site to complete your opt-out. The FAQ says that it can take up to 4 weeks to make you ex-directory (why so long?)

Thanks to Bert Washington, membership secretary of CLSIG (Commercial Legal and Scientific Information Group), for circulating a reminder about the directory.